By Thomas Conner
Woody Guthrie’s life on Mermaid Avenue, in the immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, was the closest he got to being stationary. Settling there with his second wife, Marjorie Mazia, they set to raising kids. Woody turned his insatiable curiosity to the things immediately around him and within his own family. Marjorie’s mother was legendary Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, and the two found in each other kindred spirits of wordplay and idealism.
It was in this environment Woody’s songwriting settled a bit, too. He began applying his ideas of union (as in of all humankind, not just workers) to daily life, with less urgency but no less potency. These are the songs covered here, amazingly but appropriately by the Klezmatics, the premier and popular klezmer group in America. And if you can accept that there is a premier and popular klezmer group, you’re halfway to understanding how well this disc works. The ‘Matics surround Woody’s lyrics with music not just Jewish but simple folk (the daily mantra of “Gonna Get Through This World”), psychedelic (“Pass Away”), Eastern European (“Goin’ Away to Sea”) and whatever seemed to fit the songs. It’s another project from the Archives that seems baffling on paper but skips merrily out of the speakers and becomes the life of the party.